Wild and Ornamental Geese

Flocks of geese flying overhead, honking as they migrated south in the fall and returned north in the spring, drew eyes up to them barnacle-geesein millennia past.

Geese were domesticated as far back as 5,000 years ago in Egypt, the natural flyway for waterfowl migrating between Africa and Eurasia. The migrating flocks included Asia’s Swan Goose and Europe’s Graylag Goose, the ancestors of modern domestic geese, as well as the Egyptian Goose, technically not a true goose. Egyptians netted them as hundreds of thousands settled on the Nile on their migration. From catching wild birds to eat, it’s a short step to keeping them in pens, then breeding them and selecting breeding birds for the qualities most desired.

The two recognized ornamental geese, the Canadian and the Egyptian, have been tamed from the wild but are not truly domesticated. The Egyptian is not a true goose, but a bird between a dabbling duck and a goose. It’s biologically classified as a Shelduck, a subfamily in the duck, goose and swan family. They are the smallest of the recognized breeds and the smallest geese raised domestically. Like the Canada Goose, Egyptian Geese still live in their natural habitat south of the Sahara in Africa and in the NileValley. They are abundant on the African continent in areas that provide them with the seeds, leaves and grasses they eat. Resident flocks have also done well in places where they have been introduced in Great Britain and The Netherlands.

They are aggressive defenders of their territory during breeding and nesting season, so they are best kept isolated from other birds. They may break all eggs not their own and attack other birds and people, even killing other birds.

They are beautiful, with a color pattern unlike any other geese: a reddish purple bill, orange eyes and glossy, iridescent plumage. White and Silver varieties have also been developed.

Canada Geese are the familiar wild birds, which adapt to captivity well. They breed well but retain some wildness. They may be aggressive defenders of their pens during spring and summer months. Many subspecies exist and are raised, but the Eastern or Common variety is the one recognized for exhibition.

Their wings must be trimmed annually, after each molt, to keep them from flying away. Although a contented flock will stay put, youngsters may be attracted to fly off with passing wild flocks. They may not have the reactions needed to survive the hunting season.

Andean Geese are in that duck-like family, shelducks and sheldgeese, adapted to life high in the Andes Mountains, 3,000 feet and higher. They don’t migrate as other geese do. They are mainly land grazers, taking to the water only when escaping danger with their young.

Domestic geese retain some wild qualities. Even wild geese tame relatively easily. Wild/domestic hybrids are not uncommon. Wild geese are seasonal egg layers.